Category Archives: Giftedness

The Trouble With Gifted Is That No One Understands What It Is

colourful patterned owl - Laugh Love Learn - trouble with gifted

Only super-intelligent, rational, high-achievers are gifted, right?

That’s certainly what I believed for most of my life.

Gifted people, I was sure, never let their emotions influence their judgement. Gifted people only believed in hard science – they didn’t waste their time in frivolous contemplation of metaphysical worlds. And gifted people were born with a clear purpose which they devoted their lives to achieving.

I knew plenty of those sort of gifted people. They were my classmates at Oxford, and my colleagues at the commercial practice where I trained as a lawyer.

Perhaps my fellow students and my colleagues thought I was gifted, too.  But they didn’t know the real me.

Sure, I was intelligent.

But I’d also been the child who snuck into the adult library to read about hypnosis, dream analysis, and graphology.

I was the teenager who read about meditating in a magazine and who’d chant nam-myoho-renge-kyo at her bedroom wall after school each day. (If one of my family happened to walk in, there’d be snorts of suppressed laughter as the door was hastily pulled shut.  Normal people didn’t meditate in 1985.)

I was the trainee lawyer who felt so overwhelmed at the thought of writing a research paper that she sat in her office, staring at a blank page, until hers was the only light on in the building.  Who cried with exhaustion in the bathroom when a client needed contracts signed urgently and she had to work all night. Who survived – just – by spending weekends ensconced in her favourite, new age, bookshop (England’s only, back then in 1994).

Yes, I had the kind of brain that could pass exams. But I was also clearly slightly loopy.

Why else was I the only person I knew who was into all this weird metaphysical stuff? Who was too sensitive to cope with life in a law firm? And whose meandering mind meant she took three times as long as her colleagues to get anything done?

On the outside, I was a successful twenty-something lawyer. On the inside I felt inadequate and desperately lonely.

I’d come to believe that the parts of me others considered frivolous were completely separate from my intelligence, detracting from it, even. A shameful secret to be hidden away.

It never, ever occurred to me that my quirkiness was a part of my intelligence.

By the time I became a parent, the denial of my own giftedness was so complete that when my 6-year-old’s schoolteacher described her as ‘the most naturally gifted child I’ve met in 30 years’ teaching’, I didn’t take in the meaning of her words.

When we started homeschooling, I’d occasionally come across blog posts about gifted homeschoolers. Even though much of what they said resonated with our experience, I put it down to coincidence. After all, we weren’t gifted.

My definition of gifted (rational, serious, focused) was watertight, and I was firmly outside it. If someone had suggested I go to a workshop to help with the challenges of living in a gifted family, I’d have laughed out loud.

Gifted or not – isn’t it just semantics?

So, I never realised I was gifted. What’s the big deal? Does it really matter whether or not we apply the G label to ourselves or our children?

I believe it does matter. It matters because until we understand what giftedness  is, we lack the means to fully understand and accept ourselves as the complex, multi-layered, beautifully paradoxical individuals that we are.

Turning gifted upside down

For me to begin that journey of understanding, someone had to turn giftedness upside down. She advertised a workshop to help parents of ‘intense, sensitive, over-anxious, easily overwhelmed and hyper-reactive’ children. Those words described my son to a T, and I signed up on the spot.

Throughout the workshop, I listened with tears in my eyes as I learned about the inherent character traits known as overexcitabilities. When Simone de Hoogh  talked about sensitivity, intensity and heightened awareness she wasn’t just describing my children – she was describing me.

And then I heard something that rocked my world. These traits, I discovered, are most commonly found in the highly able, and their intensity tends to increase with IQ.

Could it really be possible that my sensitivity, my meandering mind, and my curiosity about things beyond this world, weren’t signs that I wasn’t gifted, but that I was? Apparently so.

The vulnerability of the gifted

One of my favourite parts of the Columbus group definition of giftedness is this:

‘The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optimally.’

Two years have now passed since I acknowledged and began to embrace my giftedness. I can’t imagine my life now without the loving gifted community that supports me – even just by knowing it exists and that it welcomes me.

My heartfelt wish is for every other vulnerable gifted person to to have access to this kind of support.

The world won’t change overnight, but I hope that by writing posts like this and having my lovely readers share them, we can take a few steps in the right direction.

Further Reading

Blog Posts

High Ability and Society – PowerWood article with interesting observations about how gifted children adapt (often to their own detriment) to fit society’s norms.

‘Because of the significant different ways gifted children, teenagers and adults experience their inner and outer world they are part of a minority and have to find a way to express themselves appropriately without losing their sense of self in a situation with people who experience the world in a different way.’

Simone de Hoogh

What Does Gifted Look Like? Clearing Up Your Confusion – Your Rainforest Mind

Laugh Love Learn posts about giftedness

Podcasts

How to Embrace Your Beautiful Rainforest Mind – 2 part interview with Your Rainforest Mind author Paula Prober on The Alchemist’s Heart podcast

Embracing Your Fire – weekly interviews with strong, sensitive, intense women (including me!)

Groups

PowerWood –  for sharing ideas and support about intensity, super-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity (in particular raising children with overexcitabiilties)

Intergifted – ‘coaching, connecting and inspiring gifted people around the world’

League of Excitable Women –  for ‘intense, sensitive, dynamic and spirited women to come together and help each other ignite their own power and balance their highly sensitive need for extra self-care and TLC with their strong drive to push forward with their passions’.

Books

Your Rainforest Mind, Paula Prober

The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobson

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To read more about the difficulties of being gifted,  head over to this month’s GHF Blog Hop.

The difficulties of being gifted - child hiding under cushions - Laugh Love Learn - Trouble with gifted

 

 

Main graphic: BellaOlivera

Your Rainforest Mind – Book Review

Your Rainforest Mind Book Review

Your Rainforest Mind: A Guide to the Well-Being of Gifted Adults and Youth is a life-affirming book about ‘excessively curious, idealistic, sensitive, highly intelligent humans’. Author Paula Prober refers to these individuals as RFMs or ‘rainforest minds’.

I loved Your Rainforest Mind so much I read it twice in a row. This post has ended up far longer than I intended because it inspired so many thoughts I wanted to share. I trust that you, my fellow RFMs, will understand that!

Why should you read Your Rainforest Mind?

  • Because the countless examples of what it’s like to be an RFM will make you laugh and cry and feel validated for the amazing being that you are
  • Because the book is filled with practical strategies to help with the everyday challenges RFMs face
  • Because of the dozens of links to books, articles and websites for further research
  • Because after reading it you’ll be a hundred steps closer to knowing your place in this world
  • If you’re bringing up a young RFM, you’ll worry less and enjoy your child more

What is a rainforest mind?

I love the rainforest analogy. Not only does it neatly sidestep the controversial G word, but it captures the complexity of what’s  going on inside an RFM so much better than the word ‘gifted’. Likening people to ecosystems, the author explains,

“While all ecosystems are beautiful and make valuable contributions to the whole, rain forests are particularly complex: multi-layered, highly sensitive, colorful, intense, creative, fragile, overwhelming, and misunderstood … The rain forest is not a better ecosystem, just more complicated. It also makes an essential contribution to the planet when allowed to be itself, rather than when cut down and turned into something that it is not.”

Here are some of my favourite things about Your Rainforest Mind:

1.  The abundant examples of what it means to have a rainforest mind

When you grow up believing there’s something wrong with you because you’re so different from other people, you get used to camouflaging yourself to be accepted. Buried deep within, your authentic self yearns to be heard – and yet you don’t even realise the extent to which you’re denying it.

And then you read stories like the ones that fill this book, and you nod and you cry as you realise you’re not the only one who feels this way. And that beautiful, frightened child who survived by hiding her true nature all this time gradually begins to feel safe to come out and be seen.

A highly unscientific quiz

The book begins with a “highly unscientific” 23-question quiz to discover if you have a rainforest mind. One of my favourite questions is: “Have you ever called yourself ADHD because you are easily distracted by new ideas or intricate cobwebs, or OCD because you alphabetize your home library or color-code your sweaters, or bipolar because you go from ecstacy to despair in 10 minutes?” (Oh, yes!)

Your Rainforest Mind then continues to explore what having a rainforest mind means and the challenges it brings, illustrated with case studies from the author’s 25 years’ experience counselling RFMs. With every insightful example, my authentic self felt slightly more validated and the voice saying “there’s something wrong with you” became a little quieter.

2. Perfectionism explained

A few years ago I noticed how my kids both hate making mistakes, so I bought a book about perfectionism in children. That book put the blame squarely on parents’ shoulders. Perfectionistic kids, according to that author, are created by pushy, competitive parents.

Now, I admit I’m not the perfect parent (ha), but I’ve raised my kids with a keen awareness of the value of a growth mindset and intrinsic motivation. We unschool, and if anything I err on the side of not pushing them to achieve. So that book just didn’t resonate.

I now realise that that other author dealt only with extrinsic perfectionism and had no understanding of an RFM’s intrinsic drive for perfection – “That deep soulful desire for beauty, balance, harmony, and precision,” as Your Rainforest Mind author Paula Prober describes it.

While reading this chapter we heard from my daughter’s French teacher that she’d got 87% in her exam. Cordie was crestfallen. “I was hoping for more than that. I wonder what I missed?” As Paula says, “you may never feel satisfied because you strive for perfection. You keep raising the bar.”

3. Possibilities and choices

Sadness over the road not taken

Chapter four, Too many possibilities, Too many choices, deals with “the depth of [an RFM’s] sadness over the road not taken”. I was reminded strongly here of my daughter, who has experienced “the existential dilemma … in making choices” since she was a toddler.

I can remember three-year-old Cordie coming in after half an hour joyfully playing in the garden, then bursting into tears because,  “I wanted to colour my picture!” I was genuinely bewildered. No one had forced her to play outside instead of colouring.  It took me a while to figure out that she was sad simply because she hadn’t been able to do two things she loved at the same time.

Freedom to be multipotential

This chapter also discusses the challenge RFMs face in choosing a career path, bearing in mind their many and varied strengths, interests and passions. I found myself shouting ‘yes!’ when the author acknowledges that RFMs can be both scanners, who love variety and novelty, and divers, who choose one thing to examine thoroughly.

“Understanding your multipotentiality … can free you up to pursue many of your interests without guilt or shame.”

As a homeschooling mum who sometimes feels frivolous and guilty about the time I spend on my own hobbies and dreams, I resonated with the author’s client who said, “I’ve gotten so overwhelmed by the ideas and projects coming into my head that I’ve tried to convince myself that I could just turn them off and just be happy being a mom.”

This chapter also contains some great strategies for embracing our multipotentiality, which I’ll talk about in the next section.

4. Practical strategies

I’d have loved Your Rainforest Mind simply for the warm, validating way it describes RFMs. But, even better, at the end of each chapter are pages of practical strategies to help with the issues RFMs face.

One strategy I took on immediately was to make a  journal filled with ideas for projects and career possibilities. “Use it to write, draw, mind-map, list or plan without any attention to practicality or reality. These may never be developed, which is fine.”

I can’t tell you how much fun it’s been to write down all the instruments and languages I’d love to learn alongside my dreams of studying astrophysics, photography, horticulture, hair science and economics while being an expert gymnast [crying with laughter emoticon] … and that’s just a small sample from a long, long list!

One of the things I liked best about this exercise was being given permission to dream, plan and research just because I enjoy it. Yes, endless research can get in the way of producing results, but that doesn’t mean that from time to time we can’t do it just for fun.

Your Rainforest Mind Book Review

5. Authenticity, creativity and spirituality

I’ve spent most of my life feeling embarrassed about my lifelong search for spiritual meaning and connection with something greater than myself.

Brought up in an atheist family, at 12 I wrote long letters to God, at 14 I practised Buddhist chanting after reading about it in a teen magazine, and in my 20’s I sought secret respite from an unfulfilling legal career in the self-help shelves of my local bookshop. In my 30’s I attended regular personal development workshops and approaching 40 I discovered a life philosophy that has resonated with me to this day.

As I’ve grown older I’ve become more comfortable with the spiritually-seeking part of myself, yet I’ve always seen it as an aberration, somehow incongruent with my intelligence. So the relief I felt was visceral when I read Paula Prober’s sensitive discussion of authenticity, creativity and spirituality.

I resonated with Paula’s comment that from an early age most RFMs have a strong inner guidance system. I love the quote from one of my favourite authors, Steven Pressfield: “Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine ourselves to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.” I shed a tear as I read that RFMs often find it difficult to find the spiritual community they yearn for. And I empathised whole-heartedly with Paula’s many clients who found spiritual connection in nature.

6. Loneliness and the rainforest mind

“Loneliness may be the number one challenge for the RFM.”

This chapter talks about the difficulties RFMs face finding peers – in school, in the workplace, as partners, and as friends.

I find it difficult to talk about my personal experience even here, because I’m afraid of sounding like I think I’m better than other people, which is ironic considering I’ve spent most my life thinking there was something wrong with me because I’ve never felt comfortable or been fully accepted in groups.

I’m an introvert so I don’t need dozens of friends, but the better I understand myself, the more I’ve noticed how energised I feel after spending time around my more rainforest minded friends. Your Rainforest Mind has inspired me to overcome my fear of rejection and seek out more RFMs in my life, bearing in mind the author’s advice, “It is likely fellow RFMs will be shy or awkward for the same reasons that you are, so be brave and take the first step.”

Further resources

Your Rainforest Mind – author Paula Prober’s blog

Your Rainforest Mind webinar – hear more about RFMs and the book direct from Paula

Your Rainforest Mind has contributed enormously to my understanding of myself, my children, and my RFM friends, and I’d love for it to reach as wide an audience as possible. Please help by sharing this post . If you read the book perhaps you could even write your own review, on Facebook, your blog or Amazon.

To receive my weekly posts about life in an RFM family that embraces its quirkiness, don’t forget to leave your email address in the box below or top right, and to like the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

Have you read Your Rainforest Mind?

What was your favourite thing about it?

I’d love to hear from you, friends. 🙂

 

 

* I bought my own copy of Your Rainforest Mind and was not compensated for this review other than the pleasure of sharing a wonderful book. I am an Amazon affiliate so if you buy something from Amazon after clicking on my links I will receive a few pennies to go towards hosting this blog. 

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